Historical language records reveal a surge of cognitive distortions in recent decades

Johan Bollen, Marijn ten Thij, Fritz Breithaupt, Alexander T. J. Barron, Lauren A. Rutter, Lorenzo Lorenzo-Luaces, Marten Scheffer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
17 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Individuals with depression are prone to maladaptive patterns of thinking, known as cognitive distortions, whereby they think about themselves, the world, and the future in overly negative and inaccurate ways. These distortions are associated with marked changes in an individual’s mood, behavior, and language. We hypothesize that societies can undergo similar changes in their collective psychology that are reflected in historical records of language use. Here, we investigate the prevalence of textual markers of cognitive distortions in over 14 million books for the past 125 y and observe a surge of their prevalence since the 1980s, to levels exceeding those of the Great Depression and both World Wars. This pattern does not seem to be driven by changes in word meaning, publishing and writing standards, or the Google Books sample. Our results suggest a recent societal shift toward language associated with cognitive distortions and internalizing disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2102061118
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume118
Issue number30
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Keywords

  • Cognitive distortions
  • Historical language analysis
  • Internalizing disorders

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